Commissioner Herod on the water rate plan

Andy Herod, Athens-Clarke County District 8 Commissioner, kindly wrote in to respond to my post about the tiered water rates that were voted on this week.

Hi, Adrian: I saw your post on your blog re the recent water mechanism and just wanted to point out that there are some inaccuracies, the correction of which might make you feel better (or may not!). I'm not sure how to post to the blog (I'm not much of a blogger), but here they are, for what it's worth:
  1. The baseline is winter '05-'06, not '06-'07.
  2. There is a first tier of 3,000 gallons per month that will be charged at the lowest rate, thereby protecting those who were conserving in '05-'06; after one has used that amount up then your cost will increase in tier prices, based on your winter average.
  3. Larger users will pay more because they will more quickly move up the tiers to the highest-priced tier, tier 4.
  4. For those whose circumstances have changed since '05-'06 (e.g., have added a child to the household) there is an appeal process.
  5. The committee chose the winter average approach because, they reasoned, this was when people were not using discretionary water to water yards but were using water that was essential to the size of their households for drinking, cooking, washing etc. The summer spike is due to people watering their yards, and the new mechanism is designed to try to calm that spike (as the summer is when we fall most behind in our rainfall).
I was not on the committee and had some problems with just using the straight winter average from the first gallons of use because it would have punished light users. I think the 3,000 gallons as a first block was a reasonable compromise. There is no perfect system, and we will try this for this year and then either tweak it or look for a different one. But I guess we have to start somewhere.
I appreciate Andy's response to explain the reasoning behind his vote. However, the only point that I agree with is the "reasonable compromise" aspect. It looked like certain commissioners may have not budged on using winter averages, so the 3,000-gallon floor at least moderates the effect on some people.

My whole beef is with the winter average and its effect of charging different fees to households using the same amount of water. Andy explains that the point of the average was to find the amount of the water essential to the household, but this is flawed reasoning that does not justify such a plan. Different households have different lifestyles and different plumbing. What the recent drought has taught us is that water uses and plumbing fixtures inside our houses make a huge difference in our consumption. Let me explain.

Some households use water for cooking, and some don't. Some use water for laundry, and some households use laundromats. Some houses have older toilets that use more gallons per flush. Some people (like myself) take two showers a day, and we know that many Athenians take only two per week. Also, some households use plenty of water for irrigation even during the winter. If we say that the winter average is essential, we are indeed rewarding those who waste water during the winter. We are deeming old, inefficient plumbing fixtures essential, and we are deeming it unessential for people who did not wash clothes or cook at home to begin doing so. An individual household's winter water usage does not reflect household needs.

A uniform pricing tier would encourage everyone to adopt efficient usage practices at home. Commissioner Hoard's poverty anecdote was completely irrelevant because the plan voted on bases prices for everyone, not just poor families, on their past usage. If we want to base prices on household needs, then perhaps we should decide on an allotment per person and allow each ratepayer to report the number of people in the household. Yes, that system would be subject to abuse, but the actual plan is no better.

I strongly disagree that the administrative process for appealing based on changed circumstances is appropriate. It is costly to the government and costly to the ratepayers. If the utilities department were to hear from everyone with changed circumstances, they would be overwhelmed; they are being called upon to perform a new function at a cost to the system. And the ratepayers who most need the relief are likely too busy working extra jobs to make ends meet, or they might not understand that they are even entitled to relief or how to pursue it. An investment of time is needed by both sides to process a request that may make a difference of only a few dollars per year. This is inefficient government and a burden on ratepayers.

There is also the complication of giving the utilities department the burden of reviewing records and calculating the winter average. And what about the water accounts that didn't exist in '05-'06? What about the thousands of households without their own water meter because they are part of an apartment complex? Once again, the county commission has taken a simple idea -- this time, tiered water pricing -- and made it incredibly complicated.


Winfield J. Abbe said...

Adrian: You have likely read my comments on the new water rate structure plan in Flagpole Magazine this week and earlier in a blog there. They are basically the same as yours and others in letters published in the ABH. If government is "responsive" to citizens comments, wouldn't you think they would reconsider their plan, especially since it has not gone into effect yet? But no, this government is so arrogant they never admit a mistake even before the fact. About 15 years ago, soon after "unification" of the old Athens government and the Clarke County government, the new government voted on the law regarding the number of unrelated individuals permitted in a private home. The old Athens law was limited to 4, while the old county the number was 2. The city hall was packed with concerned citizens. Over 100 people spoke on all sides of the issue. The meeting went well beyond midnight. But when all public input was stopped, those "behind the rail" pulled out a pre-typed motion limiting the number to 2 when the overwhelming public opinion was for 4 or more. Even in high density apartments the nuber is 4. In other words, it did not matter what any citizen said, the mayor and commissioners had their minds already made up in advance evidently from private and secret conversations with friends and cronies. The "public hearings" were a total sham and waste of everyone's time.
The penalty for violations of this likely illegal law: $1,000 per day plus a year in jail for each violation.
Did this arrogant government ever apologize for their unconscionable behavior that fateful day? No, government NEVER apologizes. They never admit they were or are wrong.
You mentioned the 14th Amendment in your post. The Georgia Constitution also has a similar "Equal Protection Clause" which would also apply to this situation, possibly more so than the one in the U.S. Constituion. But just as bus service is not provided to all citizens but all are forced to pay for it, just as sewer service is not provided to all citizens but all are forced to pay for it, just as Five Points has a decadent $5.5 million fire station at the worst intersection of town, having removed the taxes from the former Downtowner Motel forever, others receive the shaft as the current proposal to eliminate the connecting road in the N.E. part of the county so the fire trucks could reach the Commerce Rd area without traveling all the way down to the by pass and back out Commerece Rd., in favor of a $28 million bridge connecting Heyward Allen Pky to Mitchell Bridge Rd., etc., etc., etc., this government violates the equal protection clause of either constitution with impunity every day of the year because neither the Georgia Attorney General nor the U.S. Attorney will enforce the law of the land on a government. Only lowly citizens are expected to put up their personal resources and sue in often corrupt and partial courts to seek to enforce the law.
And in the end, these commissioners have legal immunity for their improper, foolish and illegal actions since if they are sued, they get to have their legal costs paid for by us lowly taxpayers and all judges would deny they must pay any personal damages. Adrian, when you become a lawyer, I hope you will change some of this corruption and improper conduct in government in the very corrupt county of Clarke in the very corrupt state of Georgia.

Les Dilghow said...

Why doesn't The ACC Commission just tell us the truth. The whole reason they are going to this system is to cust costs, now they don't have to pay water-meter maids and other administrative costs that go along with manual tracking.

S.L. said...

Hi. I hope I have the right blog. I wanted to let you know, I finally got around to writing out a transcript to the CNN story I had linked to. Thanks.